Petrolea 14b

“That’s not a design of mechanoid I’ve seen before,” said Feroza. “Note the magnetic couplers on its feet, the de-emphasis on support in favor of tensile strength. Those microgravity adaptations cannot be the result of natural selection. More tripwire programming, I wonder?”

Victor shuddered with the effort of suppressing the horror. “The aliens who designed these creatures, they hid instructions that turns them into damn…space pirates?”

Feroza removed the helmet from her head. “Of course they did. They knew that threats to their project could come from nowhere but space.”

We’re a threat?”

“To the aliens’ interests, of course. Anyone with the technology to come to Titan is a potential competitor.” Feroza ran her hands through her sweat-matted hair. “I had thought the Rocket-seeds a recent exaption of some sort of planetary defense system, but now I see they have always served a reproductive role.”

What?” said Victor, nearly blind with panic. “People are dead. ¡pucha! Everyone is dead! And, if you’re right about this, any humans or human technology that break atmosphere is in danger. Including any rescue parties they might send down.”

“‘They’?” Feroza focused back on him, frowning. “Victor, nobody is rescuing us.”

She might have kicked Victor’s legs from under him. Or jumped up from the floor to drive her helmeted head into his gut. That would have been less painful.

Orbital stations didn’t just get annihilated by missile attacks and waves of flesh-eating robots. Victor knew what made sense in the world and what didn’t, and that map told him that there were people up there who would rescue him. There must be.

“I can,” he swallowed and tried again. “I can get out the warning.”

“How?” said Feroza. “No ground-based antenna can beam a message to…whom do you plan on alerting? The refugees from the orbital station presumably know that Petrolea is dangerous.”

“They don’t know the whole story,” said Victor. “If I can get a relay satellite into orbit…”

“Even if that were possible, even if you had a big red button you could press and tell everyone on Earth about the big bad mechanoids coming to get them, what would happen?”

“Why,” Victor blinked. “The people would nuke Petrolea from orbit.”

“I’m not certain radiation would do much to a mechanoid, but yes,” Feroza said. “Humans would want to destroy the Petrolean ecosystem along with its inconvenient defenses, then come down and extract whatever was left.”

“Alright,” said Victor, “of course.”

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